Release Date(s)2016 (September 27, 2016)
Studio(s)Ombra Films/Weimaraner Republic/Columbia (Sony Pictures)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C-
Seeking closure following the death of her mother from an unnamed disease, a young medical student named Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) visits a remote Pacific beach in Mexico, one that her mother visited too before Nancy was born. Her intention is to relax, regroup, and do a little surfing with her best friend. But when her friend flakes for the day, having had too much to drink the night before, Nancy decided to visit the beach alone. After a long afternoon in the water, Nancy is riding one last wave when a shark knocks her off her board and slices open her leg. Having survived the initial attack, Nancy manages to climb atop an outcropping of rock, but she’s losing both blood and daylight, the tide is slowly rising… and the shark, a huge and highly aggressive great white, shows no signs of leaving.
The Shallows is a surprisingly good film. What makes it so effective is that it keeps its narrative simple; this film knows exactly what it’s trying to be: a suspense thriller on the water. You never learn much about Nancy, but you learn just enough to have empathy for her, and that’s all you need in order to be invested when things start going badly for her. More importantly, director Jaume Collet-Serra, cinematographer Flavio Labiano, and editor Joel Negron offer up a master class in building tension here. The camera is kept close to Nancy’s face as she lounges on her surfboard, often right at the water line, regularly dipping above and below. This is intercut with big wide aerial shots of the beach, showing Nancy on her board with lots of flickering detail in the clear-ish water beneath her. Almost every shot is a new opportunity to catch a glimpse of the shark you know is coming. Again and again you expect to see the shark, and again and again you don’t… until suddenly you do. Once you do, the filmmakers do a good job of keeping the glimpses brief and shadowy, enough to maintain the realism of the shark quite well even though it’s mostly just CG. Only at the very end do you see a little too much of it – at which point the story’s believability unravels a bit. Still, the fact that The Shallows remains so tightly wound for so much of its 86 minutes is no small achievement.
The Shallows was shot digitally using Arri Alexa, GoPro Hero, and Red Epic Dragon cameras, in ArriRAW (3.4K), ProRes 4:4:4 (2K), and Redcode RAW (4K) formats. The film was finished to a 2K Digital Intermediate and is presented here in its theatrical 2.39:1 aspect ratio following an HDR color timing pass. Contrast levels are natural and satisfying, with dark shadows and glimmering highlights. Detail is very good in everything from the roiling under surface of the water, crashing waves and spray, coral, and sand. The colors are somewhere between natural and stylized lush, with seemingly hundreds of different shadings of blue and green in the water, sky, and jungle canopy on shore. And of course, deep, vibrant red… lots and lots of red. Primary audio is included in a fine English Dolby Atmos (7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible) mix that’s highly atmospheric, using its smooth panning and the height channels to render the rich soundscape of crashing waves and sloggy underwater environments. Additional sound options include English Descriptive Audio, and 5.1 Dolby Digital in Czech, French (Québécois), French (Parisian), German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Castilian Spanish, Spanish (Latin), Thai, and Turkish, with optional subtitles in all those languages and several more.
The 4K disc itself contains no extras, but the package includes a standard Blu-ray Disc that offers the film in 1080p HD with the following bonus features (also in HD):
- Deleted Scenes (3 scenes – 4:51 in all)
- Shooting in the Shallows (5:57)
- When Sharks Attack (7:34)
- How to Build a Shark (6:56)
- Finding the Perfect Beach: Lord Howe Island (6:01)
There are also trailers for other Sony titles, but not this one, and the package includes a Digital HD Copy code on a paper insert.
The Shallows certainly isn’t Jaws, but it is arguably the best example of the genre since Steven Spielberg’s original classic. This film is tightly wound, surprisingly effective at building and sustaining its tension, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome. All of this works to make The Shallows perfect Saturday afternoon viewing in 4K Ultra HD. Recommended.
- Bill Hunt